When news spread about the death of rap icon, Biz Markie, who is said to have died from complications related to Type 2 Diabetes, outpourings of love for the “clown prince of hip-hop” filled social media. Unfortunately, so did sideways commentary about Biz not taking better care of himself.
But, here’s the thing, we don’t know how Biz lived his life. Not one of us has ever lived one second in his body, or anyone else’s for that matter.
Life in a sick body means that your best may be significantly less than what an able-bodied person is capable of. It can mean that you eat less healthily because your medicines take up more than 50% of your monthly income, so you can’t afford clean eating. It can mean that starchy fruits and vegetables actually irritate your illness, so you have to avoid most “healthy foods” anyway. It can mean that you exercise less frequently because the chronic pain you experience makes it hard to even stand some days. It can also mean that able-bodied people will make public assumptions about you and outwardly comment on ways you could live better, or even worse ways you could have survived your illness.
Furthermore, sometimes there’s just nothing you can do to make things better when your own organs conspire to betray you. But, that’s not something I truly expect able-bodied people to understand. Contrary to popular belief, those close-minded, better-than-thou comments do hurt — they hurt people like me who fight through chronic illness every day.
The criticisms that followed Biz’s death is all too common among internet-certified doctors or the armchair physicians of social media — you know the ones who decide how you could cure your chronic illness if you would ‘just lose weight,’ among other never walked a day in your shoes remarks. And when the ill person is a celebrity, a whole new bag of commentary is dumped atop the variety of social media postings, especially if the celebrity has succumbed to their illnesses, like Biz, or Phife Dawg, or J Dilla, or [insert person with an illness you know nothing about].
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), six in 10 Americans live with a chronic illness, and four in 10 live with two or more illnesses. Ninety-six percent of people with chronic medical conditions live with an invisible condition, according to a report done by University of Massachusetts. Life with an invisible illness is incredibly tricky because those affected generally do not know they have such an illness until it’s reached a severe turn. Think cancer, multiple sclerosis or lupus, just to name a few.
My direct experience with chronic illness began more than a decade ago. I began to have trouble walking, but the pain was specifically in the ball of my foot. At the time I had recently put on several pounds so I assumed it was from being heavier and went about my business. After a while, the pain went away, but was replaced with sporadic aches and such, some of which I attributed to getting older. Years later, while driving home from a road trip, my leg began to cramp most indescribably. The next day, the pain was gone. Every time I thought to schedule a doctor’s appointment, the pain would be gone, until I collapsed while showering and was unable to walk.
As I think about my weeks hobbling at my husband’s side to see many, many doctors, and the steroids that beefed my body up more and more by the second, and the medicine that made me feel like I was having daily strokes, and the physical therapy and the full year it took to move my body in what would become it’s new normal, I am incensed at the thought of what I could have done better. At the thought that someone who had never for one second experienced the years of anguish and confusion of one’s body attacking them at all fronts would dare to have something to suggest.
When I finally learned what had taken hold of my body, I began to build community with other invisible illness warriors, who like me were exhausted with that faux-concerns of able-bodied, wannabe doctors. Maybe we could have done something better, or maybe we couldn’t, the point really is that you speak from a position of not knowing what you’re talking about and we don’t like that.
So, I proudly take the liberty to speak for us all when I say, if you have never lived in a sick body, keep your able-bodied comments to yourself.